Who Could “Spring For” Clinton’s Africa Trip

The New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief, Jeffrey Gettleman, joined the traveling press accompanying Sec. of State Clinton around Africa last week and, in yesterday’s “Week in Review,” offered these thoughts on that experience:

Traveling with [Clinton] was like covering a presidential campaign — but 10 times more exhausting. The press corps are steerage at the back of the plane, the only ones in economy seats… It was a telling statement which media organizations could still afford to spring for the trip: among them, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox News and yes, Vogue (she’s got a shot at the cover, but probably not until late fall).

Often, we were herded around like goats. “Move! Move ! Move!” her handlers would yell. The secret service were the least of our worries. It was the 20-something aides in charge of babysitting the 30-something and 40-something reporters. Many times they literally pushed us into the press van, Japanese subway style. They said it was their job.

Tougher and more grueling, then, than Gettleman’s usual beat (as chronicler of, for example, “the rape capital of the world”)?

And, Gettleman had this to say about Clinton’s I’m-Secretary-of-State moment, the moment of the trip that received the most media consideration:

That snippy — but totally inconsequential — comment grabbed more attention that anything else she said or did in Africa. Congo may be burning. Trouble may be brewing in Kenya. Liberia may be heroically emerging from gruesome circus to model democracy. But in the end, Africa isn’t so interesting to most Americans. Hillary Clinton still is.

Striking that the person who reports on how Congo is “burning” and “trouble” is “brewing in Kenya” and such seems totally resigned to the fact that “Americans” (including his easily-distracted peers in the press) just aren’t interested.

Gettleman did offer an idea of how Clinton might have avoided having her Africa trip reduced to that Bill-is-not-Secretary-of-State moment…

In Liberia…she missed a great opportunity: Her motorcade drove right past a muddy soccer field where all the players were on crutches and had one leg. It was an amputee soccer game, a spirited match between war-injured men who refused to give up. Bill would have definitely jumped out and charged across the field to commune. Had Mrs. Clinton, that might have been the enduring image of her Africa trip, not the irritated response in Congo.

… by seizing a compelling photo-op. And, one that Bill would never have missed.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.